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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1174: CD-129: DVD-163: Vt-341

Papers of Mira Nair, 1929-2020 (inclusive), 1983-2020 (bulk)


Scripts, reviews, notebooks, diaries, production documents, posters, and CDs, DVDs, and videotapes of filmmaker Mira Nair.


  • Creation: 1929-2020
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1979-2020


Language of Materials

Most material in English. Some material in Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, and Spanish.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Per the agreement between Mira Nair and the Schlesinger Library, portions of the collection are closed pending negotiations. Closures are noted in the collection inventory.

Researchers must contact Research Services for access to audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Mira Nair is held by Mira Nair and her heirs and successors. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Quotation from, duplication of, publication of, and/or any other exploitation of any materials, beyond fair use, will be subject to donor's prior written consent.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


37.41 linear feet ((67 file boxes, 7 folio boxes, 1 folio+ box, 2 card file boxes) plus 4 oversize folders, 5 supersize folders, 5 photograph folders, 2 folio photograph folders, 4 digital video cassettes, 1 videotape, 2 CDs, 11 DVDs)
5 Megabytes (5 files)

The papers of Mira Nair document the progression of her career as an international filmmaker, including in regard to the inspiration, planning and development of her films; the filming process; publicity and promotion of the films; and the reactions of audience members and critics. The collection contains pre-production correspondence and planning documents; files on research and inspiration for films; location lists; costume sketches; notes regarding makeup and hairstyles; set design materials; casting research and audition tapes; film scripts (including edited drafts, and including the script of Nair's first, film Jama Masjid Street Journal); director's notes; set photographs and film stills; posters and other publicity (including t-shirts publicizing the films); audience screening notes; reviews, interviews, and articles about Nair's films; awards; correspondence including fan mail; and diaries and notebooks, many of which are related to the making of her films. Relatively little material about her personal life is included. Much of the collection was originally housed in large three-ring binders; the archivist rehoused this material in acid-free folders. Most of Nair's folder or binder titles have been retained; folder titles created by the archivist appear in square brackets. The collection also includes electronic files received on eleven CDs, two DVDs and a compact flash card. Disks were imaged using FTK Imager and selected data was converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1981-2018 (#1.1-7.8, 68FB.1, 69F+B.1-69F+B.2), includes articles about Nair and her career, interviews with her as well as an interview with her brother Viki Nair by her friend and collaborator Sooni Taraporevala, awards and certificates, diaries and appointment books, and notebooks containing to-do lists and thoughts on various projects. Of note are the 1984 diary, in which Nair reflects on the types of films she wishes to make and the type of audience she hopes to attract, the 2004 notebook in which she considers directing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the Berlin International Film Festival jury deliberation notes. For notebooks and diaries about specific films, see Series II.

Series II, PROFESSIONAL, 1929-2020 (#8.1-67.13, 68FB.2-76FB.1v, 69F+B.3-69F+B.8, 70CB.1m-77CB.1m, OD.1-OD.4, SD.1-SD.5, E.1-E.5), documents Nair's work with the Salaam Baalak Trust and the Maisha Film Lab, the development and evolution of her filmmaking and television career, and the Monsoon Wedding Musical project. It is arranged in the five subseries described below.

Subseries A, Salaam Baalak Trust and Maisha Film Lab, 1988-2014 (#8.1-8.8, E.1-E.2), includes reports and publicity for Salaam Baalak Trust, which Nair established in 1988 with proceeds from the film Salaam Bombay!, with the aim of providing educational assistance and other support to the children who appeared in the film. The reports provide details about the children and their reactions to the help offered by the Trust. Also included are handbooks and promotional material for the Maisha Film Lab, the film mentorship program Nair established in 2005 in Uganda. The subseries also includes electronic files documenting a screening of Amelia at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009, held as a fundraiser for the Film Lab, and images of a tree-planting and other activities at the Film Lab. These files, represented in this finding aid by #E.1-E.2, include images of Nair, Richard Gere, and other individuals associated with the Film Lab and with Amelia.

Subseries B, Documentaries, 1979-2001 (#8.9-12.5, 68FB.2-68FB.3, E.3), includes shooting notes; budgets, contracts, and correspondence; scripts (sometimes called transcripts); trims (short strips of film); film stills and other images; press kits and other promotional material; reviews, and interviews with Nair related to the documentaries Jama Masjid Street Journal (Nair's first film), So Far from India, India Cabaret, Children of a Desired Sex, and The Laughing Club of India. Of particular note are the reports on possible participants in So Far from India and the interviews with the selected subjects. The subseries also includes an electronic image of the cast and crew of So Far from India: this is represented in the finding aid by #E.3. The subseries is arranged chronologically by project and then alphabetically. Some material is in French, Japanese, and Hindi. For additional photographs of Nair alone or with others, see Series III.

Subseries C, Short films and anthologies, 1993-2014 (#12.6-13.12, OD.1, E.4), includes films stills, press clippings (including interviews with Nair), promotional materials, scripts, notes, and production documents for the films The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat, 9'11"01 September 11, Migration, How Can It Be?, New York I Love You, A Fork a Spoon and a Knight, and God Room. The subseries also includes electronic images of Nair on the set of How Can It Be?: these are represented by #E.4. Materials of interest include Nair's notes on the editing of The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat and articles, etc., regarding the inspiration for Nair's segment of September 11. The segment is based on the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a Pakistani American police department cadet and emergency medical technician, who died in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, where he had gone to try to help. Following the attack, he was investigated for possible involvement with the terrorists, but this suspicion was proven false and he was ultimately declared a hero by the United States Congress and others. The subseries is arranged chronologically by project and then alphabetically. Some clippings are in French. For additional photographs of Nair alone or with others, see Series III.

Subseries D, Feature and television films and theater, 1929-2020 (#13.13-65.3, 68FB.4-76FB.1v, 69F+B.3-69F+B.8, 70CB.1m-77CB.1m, OD.2-OD.4, SD.1-SD.5), documents the Nair's feature and television films, the musical based on Monsoon Wedding, and the television series A Suitable Boy. The subseries covers the development of many of the films from early inspiration to finished product and includes casting documents and letters from actors interested in roles; costume design notes; production documents including crew lists, continuity logs, and scene breakdowns; budgets; film treatments; multiple versions of scripts for the various projects (many of them edited); diaries and notebooks Nair kept while making some of the films; correspondence with producers; film and location stills; fan mail; movie posters; and memorabilia. The subseries also includes reviews, interviews with Nair, and other articles from a wide array of countries, including France, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Uganda, Spain, Great Britain, and Mexico; languages include French, Italian, Hindi, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Norwegian. For additional photographs of Nair alone or with others, see Series III.

Materials of note include the Salaam Bombay! scripts in Hindi (with the early title Chull Bumbai Chull); an album and related material for an acting workshop for the film's child actors; storyboards; and "production paperwork" including descriptions of a client's experiences in an Indian brothel. Also of note are the Mississippi Masala "recruited audience screening" report, revised scripts and comments on the screenplay, and a memo regarding cast and crew having possessions "go missing" and facing "intimidation tactics;" The Perez Family costume designer's sketches for Anjelica Huston, with the designer's notes on each costume; the early Kama Sutra scripts with the title Tara and Maya (which was used during filming in India to prevent interference from censors), suggested changes to the film from film industry executives; the extensive clippings and reviews for Monsoon Wedding and notes on the script by Nair; and an Hysterical Blindness memo dated September 14, 2001, referring to "the recent tragedy," i.e. the September 11 terrorist attack.

Other materials of note include Vanity Fair production documents including images of Reese Witherspoon in a variety of costumes; books of images compiled by Nair while working on Vanity Fair and The Namesake; a scrapbook made for Nair by Kal Penn, who played the role of Gogol in The Namesake; The Namesake production design material including paint and wallpaper samples; interviews with author Jhumpa Lahiri; a Namesake clapperboard, and shoes worn by Irrfan Kahn, who played Ashoke Ganguli in the film; notes on the authenticity of the Amelia script and the depiction of Amelia Earhart's husband George Putnam, and a notebook titled "truths about Amelia" in which Nair reflects on her reasons for making the film, including her disappointment at failure to make the film Shantaram and her desire to keep working. Also of note are audience screening cards for The Queen of Katwe; a partial copy of the film's script with notes by Nair; and lyrics for the Monsoon Wedding musical. The subseries also includes images that served as inspiration for Vanity Fair, The Namesake, Amelia, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and A Suitable Boy. The subseries is arranged chronologically by project and then alphabetically.

Subseries E, Uncompleted projects, 1990-2016 (#65.4-67.13, E.5), includes scripts, agreements, proposals, research, and casting information for a number of film and television projects Nair did not complete, including a film about boy soldiers in the National Resistance army in Uganda, and an adaptation of the novel Tsotsi by Athol Fugard. Nair had also hoped to direct an adaptation of the Gregory David Roberts novel Shantaram, to star Johnny Depp. Material related to this project includes electronic files (represented in this finding aid by #E.5) including storyboards and images. The subseries is arranged chronologically by project.

Series III, PHOTOGRAPHS AND AUDIOVISUAL, 1986-2011 (PD.1f-PD.7, CD-129.1--CD-129.2, DVD-163.1--DVD-163.11, Vt-341.1--Vt-341.5) includes photographs of Nair on the sets of several of her films, directing or talking with cast and crew. Film stills and some publicity photographs are located in Series II. The audiovisual material includes promotional videotapes for the Maisha Film Lab featuring Nair; interviews of Nair upon the release of The Namesake; digital video cassettes of auditions and rehearsals of Monsoon Wedding, and videotapes and DVDs of auditions for The Namesake, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and Shantaram. The series is arranged by format.


Filmmaker Mira Nair was born in Rourkela, Orissa, in eastern India, in 1957. Her father, Amrit Lal Nair, was an officer in the Indian Administrative Service and her mother, Parveen Nayyar (or Nair), was a social worker. She had two older brothers. After studying sociology at Delhi University, Nair received a full scholarship to attend Harvard University. She was initially interested in acting but developed an interest in filmmaking while at Harvard. For her senior thesis, she developed and directed her first film, Jama Masjid Street Journal, filming on the streets of Old Delhi. She graduated with a degree in visual and environmental studies in 1979. While at Harvard, Nair met fine-art photographer Mitch Epstein; they married in 1981 and Epstein worked with her on several of her early films.

Nair's films frequently address issues of gender, race, cultural, and familial relations and conflict, including the experiences of immigrants. Several of her films have been made in collaboration with screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, whom Nair met when they were both students at Harvard. Nair produced many of her films through Mirabai Films, a production company she established in 1989. In the late 1980s, while in Uganda researching her film Mississippi Masala, Nair met Indo-Ugandan political scientist Mahmood Mamdan. Following her divorce from Epstein, she and Mamdan married in 1991; their son Zohran was born that year. Nair divides her time between New York City, where Mamdan is the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, India, and Kampala, Uganda. In 2015, she served as an adjunct faculty member in Columbia's School of the Arts film program.

Beginning with her Harvard senior thesis, Jamal Masjid Street Journal, Nair has made several short documentaries exploring Indian cultural traditions. So Far from India (1982), which explores the lives of an immigrant couple in New York City, was followed by India Cabaret (1984), addressing the exploitation of women working in strip clubs in Bombay. Children of a Desired Sex (1987) focuses on couples in India making the choice to abort female fetuses, due to societal preference for boys. Nair's most recent documentary, The Laughing Club of India (2001), is about social clubs which aim to promote health and happiness through laughter.

Nair's first feature film, Salaam Bombay! (1988), set in the slums of Bombay (now Mumbai) and featuring a cast that included children living on the street, was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, making it the second Indian film to be so nominated. Her next film, Mississippi Masala (1991), starred Sarita Choudhury as a young Ugandan-born Indian woman displaced to Mississippi, who develops a relationship with an African American man played by Denzel Washington; their relationship exposes the prejudices in their respective communities. This film helped Nair achieve mainstream success. Other feature films included The Perez Family (1995), Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996), Monsoon Wedding (2001), Vanity Fair (2004, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray), The Namesake (2006, based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri), Amelia (2009, a biopic about Amelia Earhart), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012, based on the novel by Mohsin Hamid), and Queen of Katwe (2016, about Phiona Mutesi, a young chess player from Katwe, a slum in Uganda, who represented her country at four Women's Chess Olympiads.) She was also invited to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but ultimately declined in favor of directing The Namesake.

She has also directed several short films, frequently for anthology films. Many of these anthologies focused on a particular theme or event, such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the AIDS epidemic, or, in the case of 8, the eight international development goals established during the Millennium Summit of the United Nations. The short films include The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat (1993), 11'9"01 September 11 (segment titled "India," 2002), Migration (2007, for the film AIDS Jaago), New York, I Love You (2008, segment titled "Kosher Vegetarian"), How Can It Be? (2008, for the film 8), God Room (2014, for the film Words with Gods), and A Fork, A Spoon, and a Knight (2015, the story of Robert Katende, the founder of the Sports Outreach Chess Academy in Uganda, and Phiona Mutesi's coach).

In addition to her other work, Nair directed two made-for television movies, My Own Country (1998), based on Abraham Verghese's book about his experiences as an infectious diseases doctor in Tennessee during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and Hysterical Blindness (2002), starring Uma Thurman and Juliette Lewis as young women looking for romance in the early 1980s. She also developed and directed a musical version of Monsoon Wedding and directed a miniseries based on the Vikram Seth novel A Suitable Boy (2020). Nair also compiled three books: Vanity Fair: Bringing Thackeray's Times Novel to the Screen (2004), The Namesake: A Portrait of the Film (2006), and The Reluctant Fundamentalist: From Book to Film (2013). The books include extracts from Nair's diaries, images from the films, and essays and commentary by cast, crew, and others involved in the making of the films.

An activist and philanthropist, Nair is the founder of Salaam Baalak Trust, a nonprofit organization in Delhi that provides support for children living on the street or in poverty. The Trust began as an attempt to provide educational and other opportunities to the children who had appeared in Salaam Bombay! Her mother, Parveen Nair, served as chair of Salaam Baalak Trust and as of 2022 is chairperson emeritus. Nair also founded the Maisha Film Lab in Kampala, Uganda, a nonprofit training initiative for emerging East African filmmakers. Her work has received numerous awards, including an Independent Spirit Award for Mississippi Masala and the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for Monsoon Wedding. In 2001 she served as president of the Berlin International Film Festival jury. As of May 2022, her most recent project is directing an episode of National Treasure for Disney+.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1981-2018 (#1.1-7.8, 68FB.1, 69F+B.1-69F+B.2)
  2. Series II. Professional, 1929-2020 (#8.1-67.13, 68FB.2-76FB.1v, 69F+B.3-69F+B.8, 70CB.1m-77CB.1m, OD.1-OD.4, SD.1-SD.5, E.1-E.5)
  3. Series III. Photographs and audiovisual, 1986-2011 (PD.1f-PD.7, CD-129.1--CD-129.2, DVD-163.1--DVD-163.11, Vt-341.1--Vt-341.5)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2021-M164, 2022-M157, 2023-M97

The papers of Mira Nair were acquired by the Schlesinger Library from Mira Nair between September 2021 and July 2023.

Processing Information

Processed: August 2023

By: Susan Earle, with assistance from Yolande E. Bennett and Janin Escobedo-Garcia.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

General processing procedures in place at the Library include the following:  books (when not heavily annotated) by and about the collection's creator and on subjects which fall within the Library's collecting area are removed and cataloged separately with information about their provenance; other books and serials are not retained.


Nair, Mira. Papers of Mira Nair, 1929-2020 (inclusive), 1983-2020 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by Carl & Lily Pforzheimer Fund, Pforzheimer Fund for the Schlesinger Library, Sybil Shainwald Fund at the Schlesinger Library, Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund, Eliza Taylor and George W. Ransom Memorial Fund, Robert and Elizabeth Owen Shenton Fund, and the Fleisher Acquisition Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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